From a Small Group of American Lawyers to an International Movement

The Rule of Law and Access to Justice; Core Values of ABA Leadership

Last year, ABA Immediate Past President,William Neukom, led the world’s largest professional association in spearheading the World Justice Project, a multidisciplinary social justice initiative, to design and employ four universally defined principles of the Rule of Law, to wit:

  1. The government and its officials and agents are accountable under the law;
  2. The laws are clear, publicized, stable and fair, and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property;
  3. The process by which the laws are enacted, administered and enforced is accessible, fair and efficient;
  4. The laws are upheld, and access to justice is provided, by competent, independent, and ethical law enforcement officials, attorneys or representatives, and judges who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.

The World Justice Project sponsored two scholarship teams. The first, lead by Nobel Laureate Dr. James Heckman, and including second Nobel Laureate Dr. Amartya Sen, a team of political scientists, economists and legal scholars, examined the causal relationship between the rule of law and political, social and economic opportunity. The second, led by constitutional and human rights scholar, Professor Yash Ghai, studied how marginalized peoples obtain access to justice.

Next, the World Justice Project established a Rule of Law Index, utilizing reliable public information, testimony and random polling as its source, which measured the status of human rights, free enterprise and criminal justice in Argentina, Australia, Colombia, Spain, Sweden and the US. The next round of testing will address that criteria in Liberia and Tanzania with anticipation to administer the Index in 100 countries over the next three years.

In furtherance of the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law policies, President Neukom, backed by the power and advocacy of the ABA and its Board of Delegates, addressed notable breakdowns in the Rule of Law at home and abroad.

In 2007, the ABA, along with 45 companion national and multinational bar associations, called for restoration of the rule of law in Pakistan, including restoration of its constitution, reinstatement of the judiciary and release of citizenry incarcerated for protesting in the wake of the actions of totalitarian leader, Pervez Musharraf.

Internally, the House of Delegates issued statements critical of U.S. policy matters established in the wake of 9/11, germane to the practice of law, including:

The Bush Administration’s employment of torture and the abolishment of the rule of habeas corpus and right to due process at Guantanamo Bay.

The Federal Government’s actions in estopping litigation for reasons of national security without requirement of proof

The Federal Government’s actions with regard to warrantless wire tapping of the citizenry
Governmental encouragement of waivers of attorney/client privilege and attorney work product in exchange for lesser prosecutorial and investigative zeal

Further, the House of Delegates issued resolutions relative to judicial compensation, access to justice and the deficit of civil justice and indigent parties right to counsel in matters confronting basic human needs.

At the Annual Meeting in New York in August, President Neukom passed the gavel to H. Thomas Wells of Alabama. Mr. Wells’ leadership will extend and elaborate upon that of Mr. Neukom’s and focus on Core Values of the Profession. Mr. Wells defines those values to include:

  • Access to Justice, including free elections, fair and impartial courts and alternatives such as community lawyering
  • Insured independence of the Bar and the Judiciary
  • Diversity in the Profession
  • The Rule of Law